Jeff Richards was at his lowest point while high above the earth.
Believing he’d earned a spot on the Carolina Panthers’ 53-man roster following an impressive preseason, highlighted by an interception late in the fourth-quarter on a two-point conversion, the cornerback was shocked to learn he wasn’t in the team’s plans.
So there he was, flying home to Oklahoma City, messaging his agent to hear if he’d gotten claimed.
No word yet.
Then the tweets came congratulating him on being a Charger.
Richards’ heart began to race, as his agent shot him a text at the same time the notifications came on Twitter.
The Bolts had claimed him.
“I’m sitting there on the plane, which obviously they all have Wi-Fi these days, and I’m getting these messages saying I’m going to L.A.,” he said, breaking out into a wide grin recalling the moment. “I’m thinking this can’t be real. I can’t believe it. Honestly, I felt I had a preseason deserving of making a 53 (man roster). I’m emotional thinking of my journey. I didn’t know if it was over or not for me when I was on that plane. I’m a nobody in the NFL.”
Richards is the ultimate late bloomer. In fact, he didn’t play football until his senior year of high school. After the 5-6, 101-pound junior shot up six inches heading into the 12 grade, he decided to lace up his cleats. It may have taken a while to get to this point, but he’s determined to make the most of it.
“They took a chance on me. I’d never (imagined) it would be the Chargers. What’s better than L.A.? This is a blessing. I’m truly blessed. In high school, I went from being 5-6 to 6-2. I guess everything happens late for me. It took me a while to get here, but now I’m a Charger. I want everyone to know I’m going to give it my all.”
Truth be told, the Bolts have had their eye on the versatile defensive back for some time. They were familiar with him from his days in the CFL, where he helped lead the Ottawa Redblacks to a 2016 Grey Cup title.
Now, the plan is to get the 6-2, 210-pound cornerback up to speed as quickly as possible. He arrived in L.A. with only eight days to prepare for the Monday Night opener in Denver. Realizing he’s up against the clock, Richards is working nonstop to learn the system. He’s stayed in Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward’s hip pocket, and spent extra time with Defensive Backs Coach Ron Milus.
“Those two (Verrett and Hayward) obviously don’t feel threatened, so they are doing everything they can to help. It’s been great. Anything I need, they do whatever they can to help. I’ve been in situations before where guys feel threatened, and they don’t want to help. Not here. Those guys are doing everything they can to help, and they give me a truthful answer to get better when I try to get better. So what better situation can I be in right now? So I’m getting in the building early and staying late.”
Richards is aware that Chargers fans likely aren’t aware of his game. After playing collegiately at tiny Emporia State, he played one year in the Arena League before his two-year stint in the CFL. However, he doesn’t believe he’d have this opportunity if not for his stint up north.
“In Canada, it’s a passing league, so you have to be able to cover,” he explained. “I think that helped me. I have to throw the CFL a plug because there are guys up there who can really play. Especially (the skill positions) because the big difference is size wise up front. Guys in the CFL are smaller (on the offensive and defensive line), but it for the other (positions), the talent is there can come here and compete with the NFL.”
While fans may not know about him right now, he’s hopeful they learn it soon enough.
“I’m versatile. I can play safety or corner, and I’ll bring it on special teams, too. I can play anything in the back end, but I’ll be playing corner (in this system). I’m a long corner, and that’s what coaches like. But we have two veteran corners here, who are some of the best, and I’m learning a lot from there. Like I said, what’s better than having two Pro Bowl guys like that? I want to come in here and play as fast as I can.”